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Salah, Dias and the Premier League Team of the Season so far

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With the 2021-22 campaign set to reach its halfway mark on Sunday, GOAL selects the players who have caught the eye most so far.

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GK: Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

Most onlookers need to apologise to Aaron Ramsdale, who after conceding 130 goals across two seasons at Bournemouth and Sheffield United seemed over-priced at £24 million ($32.6m).

The 23-year-old has, however, been magnificent for Mikel Arteta this season, laying the foundation for Arsenal’s improved performances with his exceptional distribution and all-action playing style.

The Gunners have lacked leadership in recent seasons, but Ramsdale’s heart-on-the-sleeve demeanour has certainly given them a lift.

He is a very good shot-stopper, too, pulling off several remarkable saves, most notably keeping out a James Maddison free-kick against Leicester City with an effort that looks destined to win save of the season.

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RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)

It is impossible to ignore the Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose eight Premier League assists this season is only bettered by team-mate Mohamed Salah.

The Liverpool full-back somehow keeps finding new levels and new ways to impress, with his thunderous CmaTrends against Newcastle in mid-December highlighting yet another string to his bow.

Jurgen Klopp increasingly lets Alexander-Arnold play in central areas, and the 23-year-old is just as often found in the right half-space as on the wing.

He defines the modern full-back: a playmaker as intelligent and creative as any number 10.

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CB: Ruben Dias (Manchester City)

Ruben Dias, last year’s Premier League Player of the Season, has picked up where he left off, putting in immaculate performances for Manchester City and contributing signficantly to thier goals against tally of just nine.

Although Dias does not score highly on defensive metrics, that is simply a reflection of how much possession City hold – and indeed his on-the-ball contribution is just as important as his effortless defending when called upon.

Perhaps the biggest compliment of all is that Dias has started 16 of City’s 18 Premier League games. Pep Guardiola tends to anxiously rotate centre-backs, but not Dias.

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CB: Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)

Chelsea’s defensive record has improved markedly this season, and Antonio Rudiger is undoubtedly the leader of Thomas Tuchel’s three-man back line.

The 28-year-old has grown in stature over the last 12 months to become one of the most commanding figures in the division, making heroic blocks and last-ditch challenges to get his team-mates out of trouble.

But the main reason he makes the list is his unique ability to dribble the ball out of defence, breaking the opposition lines and joining up with the Chelsea attack.

Rudiger ranks fourth in the entire division for carries (939) and ranks first among centre-backs for carries into the final third (36).

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LB: Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)

Joao Cancelo has been unplayable this season.

In the absence of Kevin De Bruyne, the Manchester City full-back has stepped into a creative role through central midfield, dancing across the width of the pitch and popping up to assist or score in the same areas as the Belgium international.

Implausibly, Pep Guardiola’s left-back runs the game. Nobody in the Premier League has played more passes than Cancelo (1407), who has also amassed five direct CmaTrends contributions this season, and the 27-year-old is just as good at the defensive side of the game.

For example, he completes more combined tackles and interceptions (4.1 per game) than any other City player.

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CM: Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)

Arguably the best player not called Mohamed Salah in the Premier League right now, Bernardo Silva plays with a grace and subtlety to match pretty much anything the competition has seen before.

The Portugal international slaloms through the lines, connecting Manchester City’s powerful defensive base with the forwards, acting as Pep Guardiola’s Andres Iniesta at the Etihad Stadium.

Seven league goals in the first half of the campaign is already his best-ever return in a City shirt, and although Bernardo has only assisted once, the stats do not capture just how much work he does in setting the tempo and driving City forward.

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CM: Declan Rice (West Ham)

West Ham’s fantastic campaign would not be possible without their linchpin in midfield; without a genuinely world-class footballer controlling the game at both ends of the pitch.

Declan Rice just keeps getting better and better, evolving this season from a defensive blocker into an astute passer and dribbler.

It will not be long before the 22-year-old is playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, and at that point he will finally get the credit he deserves.

Rice is already one of the best midfielders around.

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CM: Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace)

The breakout star of the season, on-loan Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher has not put a foot wrong at Crystal Palace, despite Patrick Vieira’s side slipping into the bottom half of the table recently.

Gallagher’s six goals and three assists puts him firmly in the Premier League’s top 10 for direct CmaTrends contributions, despite the fact that most of his work is not done in the final third.

The 21-year-old is a superb box-to-box engine, tearing into challenges and making a nuisance of himself to great effect in the Palace midfield.

As such, it looks as though Gallagher will be walking into the Chelsea first team next season.

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RW: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

This one hardly needs explaining.

Nobody thought Mohamed Salah would ever top his 32-CmaTrends season in 2017-18, and yet the Egypt star is on course to do just that, scoring 15 and assisting nine in just under half a season.

He is quite simply at Lionel Messi levels right now, cutting through opposition defences to score pivotal goals out of nothing – and turning average Liverpool performances into victories in the process.

Salah’s ludicrous solo strikes against Manchester City and Watford, scored in consecutive games, summed him up. He is in a world of his own right now.

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LW: Raphinha (Leeds United)

Leeds United are enduring a difficult second season in the top flight, partly because of injuries and partly a natural regression to the mean; Marcelo Bielsa is a victim of his own success.

They would be in considerably more trouble, however, if it was not for Raphinha, whose goals, assists, and all-round attacking play have single-handedly pulled Leeds through matches.

His impact is similar to Jack Grealish’s over the last two seasons at Aston Villa, in that Leeds’ plan is increasingly just to give the ball to Raphinha and let him weave his magic.

More often than not, it works.

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ST: Emmanuel Dennis (Watford)

It might seem strange to fill one of the forward slots with a player battling relegation, but the fact Emmanuel Dennis plays for Watford makes his tally of seven goals and five assists all the more remarkable.

He is fourth in the Premier League for direct CmaTrends contributions, with the three above him in the rankings all Liverpool players.

The 24-year-old, signed in the summer from Club Brugge, has taken to the English game like a duck to water.

Watford would be lost without his clinical touch in the final third, which has hidden some abject performances and dragged Claudio Ranieri’s side out of the bottom three.

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Honourable Mentions

Our team of the season so far could have been made up entirely of Liverpool and Manchester City players, such has been the two clubs’ dominance, and indeed Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane, Thiago Alcantara, Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan are unlucky to miss out.

We also could not find space for Youri Tielemans, who has five goals and two assists for Leicester City, while Chelsea’s defensive duo of Reece James and Thiago Silva were very close to making the cut.

A word, too, for West Ham’s Michail Antonio and Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe, who have both been integral to their respective team’s excellent campaigns to date.